THE Europa League is regularly derided as a second class competition compared to the behemoth of the Champions League. It is the undercard to the Champions League main event.
But Liverpool’s return the competition previously known as the Uefa Cup brings only positives for me.
Europe is Liverpool’s domain, it is the platform where the most memorable nights have captivated a spell bound Kop and it has been quite simply, very good to Liverpool. Last year’s absence of European football to fill the week did not allow our club to ‘concentrate on the league’ as is often the mantra of football fans; it just meant that there were fewer games to see our great club and no more glorious additions to our European chronicles.
Now, we’re back and it’s great. And while some fans may prefer to spend their Thursday night at a cookery class rather than at Anfield watching the Reds, I am certainly not one of them. The group we have in this year’s Europa League is a challenging one and that makes it all the better. Anzhi are a team that have a few big name players and seeing Eto’o, a genuinely world class player, on the pitch in the early stages is something to enjoy not endure.
Already we have had some exciting moments in the Europa League. The games against Hearts were not the most entertaining ever seen but the drama in the second leg was delightful. The moment when Suarez broke the travelling supporter’s hearts (pardon the pun) right at the death was brilliant. The Young boys match was gluttony of goals and saw Shelvey deliver his most impressive performance to date. Then the game against Udinese was an absolute cracker.
The first half performance of the young Reds was impeccable. They dominated the game, barely offered Udinese a sniff and showed a mature and composed performance that belied their years. The second half, albeit disappointing was exciting. Udinese attacked and probed, scored goals and looked menacing only for the Reds to become emboldened and take control once more threatening to turn the result on its head. Even though the result was the wrong one, the ability of the European scene to offer hope when the game had seemed dead is its greatest triumph
This is what makes European football priceless. The experience for players and fans alike is not the same as the domestic cups or the Premier League, it offers the opportunity to explore never before seen places and leave lasting Liverpool impressions on the locals.
This is what makes our club great.
But most importantly is that the Europa League, is a territory where Liverpool have had glory, it is a home which offers great comfort.
Who can argue that the 2001 campaign to lift the Uefa Cup was dull and not worthwhile?
The final itself was memorable but the journey was just as exciting and the competition has proved to be a launch pad for Liverpool in years gone by.
Shanks’ great triumph in ’73 set us on course for Paisley’s ’76 Uefa Cup success and future European conquest. Likewise, Houllier’s 2001 Champions went on to lift Ol’ big ears under the stewardship of Senor Benitez only 4 years later.
Uefa Cup football has been a springboard to future LFC greatness and I will not be so bold as to say that our next assault on European Cup glory won’t come hot off the heels of another triumph in Europe’s second competition.